Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: September 2019

Wednesday

11

September 2019

9

COMMENTS

Bill Burr: Paper Tiger Struggles To Get Past Its Flimsy #MeToo Commentary

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Analysis of the #MeToo movement and subsequent “outrage culture” has become popular fodder for comedy specials. Bill Burr: Paper Tiger dedicates its first act to commentary on the nuances of feminism, intersectionality, and the nature of sexual harassment accusations. Burr clearly feels obliged to comment on this point in American culture, but he’s not very good at mining the humor out of this complicated minefield.

The presence of Dave Becky as an executive producer, who was caught up in Louis C.K.’s masturbation scandal, feels a bit out of place considering Becky’s conciliatory tone after the backlash. Burr suggests the importance of “due process” in a segment with little humor, his candor conveniently leaving out the situations where such efforts to combat sexual harassment were met with institutional pushback.

The theme of Paper Tiger is quite simple. Burr doesn’t want to hear about how life might be hard for anyone else. This dynamic is best illustrated through a bit where he talks about how a #MeToo accuser described a man “vigorously” masturbating. Burr describes this approach as the only way to achieve self-pleasure as far as he knows, comparing the alternative to something that Sting might practice. If he spent more time listening to women, he’d know that masturbation as an activity enjoyed by people of all genders can, in fact, have a rhythm described as something other than vigorous.

Sure that might sound like nitpicking, but the whole segment highlights a broader issue for the special. For all the talk of Burr wanting to “trigger” people, his most outrageous bits never feel edgy enough to pack the desired punch. He talks about wanting to drive by a woman’s rally yelling outrageous things in an effort to see people flail around in agony, struggling to contain his laughter at the imagery. Sure, “owning the libs” has become an internet meme, but the whole segment plays out like Burr actually believes he can inspire such terror with his words.

A telling moment in the special came when a heckler shouted about consent as Burr lamented the plight of women who enjoyed rough sex in the #MeToo era. Understandably, Burr was annoyed at having his rhythm disrupted, but he also reacted with indignation at the idea that people were questioning his very understanding of consent. His reaction exists in stark contrast to his opening segments, a man who doesn’t want you to think he’s a sexist pig while telling jokes that depict him as such.

He’s provocative for sure, taking aim at Stephen Hawking and Michelle Obama, occasionally earning a chuckle in the process. The jokes themselves don’t really dive deeper than surface-level humor about living with a debilitating disease like ALS or being a First Lady with ambitions beyond mere photo ops. The shock value is there for those who laugh at things they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in public.

A good barometer for whether or not you find Paper Tiger funny is whether or not you laugh at the mere thought of a person taking offense to something you said. Such amusement can be had without a person actually running around screaming in terror at said words. An abstract “snowflake” can certainly substitute for the real thing.

Is Burr actually offensive? At times, sure, but more of in the eye-rolling “offensive uncle at Thanksgiving” vein than something people might actually be outraged by. Comedians often claim they’re on the verge of “cancellation,” as Burr himself suggests, a point instantly disproven by the very existence of the special. He says, “This is going to be my last show ever,” something that only feels edgy or amusing to people who preface every offensive thing they say with that ominous foreshadowing.

As someone who belongs to a group that Burr took aim at, there isn’t much to be offended by in the notion of being told transgender women “discard” their penises. It’s a joke that’s been told a million times that lacks any basis in the fundamental process of bottom surgery. Are we supposed to laugh at the idea of a gender-neutral bathroom on a plane when literally every bathroom aboard every plane is fitted that way?

Burr is much stronger when he turns his humor inward. He talks about his temper and his desire to deal with that anger for the sake of his child. Similarly, his bits about his wife are fairly funny, even though much of it is similarly laced in the denial of any semblance of advantage afforded to him as a straight white man.

At one point early on, Burr suggests that the #MeToo movement “had to happen.” He does seem like a fairly likable man throughout the special, an Archie Bunker-like figure trying to be a good father while struggling to process the ever-changing world around him. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people out there in similar boats, resistant to change that might come at a cost to their own standing in the world.

Burr best illustrates the problem with Paper Tiger when he remarks that the #MeToo movement appears to be winding down, having seemingly handled the most egregious cases. If that’s the case, maybe so too should standup comedians find something else to talk about. Maybe soon, we’ll see a special dedicated to outrage for the people who are outraged about outrage culture. Hopefully it’ll be funnier than this lopsided routine.

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Monday

9

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Riot Act Is a Gorgeous Film Plagued by a Plodding Script

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Period pieces have an inherent additional layer of complexity to their presentation that films with contemporary settings don’t need to worry about. Set in 1903, Devon Parks The Riot Act is a thriller that does an excellent job of making the audience feel as though they’re actually in Van Buren, Arkansas, back in a time when a traveling vaudeville act would be the pinnacle of one’s entertainment options. The film makes extensive use of Van Buren’s historic buildings, giving it a far more authentic feel than many period pieces, let alone those with indie budgets.

The beautiful locations give the eyes plenty to look at throughout each scene. Such scenery is often more entertaining to watch than the characters. Period pieces may have additional considerations to look out for, but films set in the past still need narratives that work for their audience living in the present.

The Riot Act’s script is a meandering slog, a product of the film’s unclear narrative focus. Dr. Willard Pearrow (Brett Cullen) takes umbrage with his daughter’s lover (Brace Harris), shooting him before he can run off and live happily ever after with Allye (Lauren Sweetster). Two years later, a traveling vaudeville act is booked in his opera house, haunted by a mysterious “ghost” seeking revenge on the powerful doctor.

While the mystery surrounding Dr. Pearrow’s relationship with Allye could’ve carried the narrative, the film burdened itself with a few unnecessary subplots. In keeping with its 1903 Arkansan setting, the townsfolk are hardly receptive to diversity, taking umbrage with the presence of African American member of the troupe. The film ostensibly tries to aim for historical accuracy in portraying this drama but lingers too long on a plot point that feels particularly stale to a present-day audience.

Making matters worse is the films 101-minute runtime, which stretches its various plot strands quite thin by the end. A more streamlined approach to the narrative would’ve done the film wonders, while allowing it to sidestep the social commentary that’s not very interesting to begin with. The Riot Act is too long for its own good, a script that rarely seems sure of what it’s supposed to be doing.

There is a lot to like in many of the scenes, often shot like a stage play. Parks maintains a minimalist focus, using sparse lighting and stage direction to give his actors a chance to shine. The play-like dynamic works well for the period setting, especially for an indie.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Cullen and Sweetster are mostly good, but many of the scenes are brought down by actors speaking their lines too quickly or sounding muffled in the process. More than a few scenes look like they should have been reshot. There are obvious limitations put on indie films, but clumsy takes drag down the otherwise excellent production values.

The Riot Act has a lot to admire as an indie period piece, but the film plays out like a rough cut in desperate need of additional editing. The locations are beautiful and the acting is mostly good, but the script is too unsure of itself to make for a worthwhile experience. Parks’ debut shows plenty of promise, but the execution just isn’t quite there.

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Wednesday

4

September 2019

141

COMMENTS

Sticks & Stones Isn’t Very Funny

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Five Netflix specials into his career resurgence, Dave Chappelle has a lot of problems with the way his jokes are being received in the #MeToo era. In the old days, comedians could punch down and tell tired jokes about the LGBTQ community, “alphabet people,” and nobody cared. Similarly, if you were a successful older man, there was a time when you could get away with making a younger woman watch you pleasure yourself.

Hearing Chappelle lament the dawning of the #MeToo era, you might get the impression that life is pretty hard for him. Sticks & Stones is largely centered around the reasons why he feels this way. Trouble is, the whole foundation of his routine is centered around faulty logic.

Chappelle is upset that people can’t make gay jokes anymore, seeming to forget that he can in fact, make those jokes. Sticks & Stones is full of humor directed at the LGBTQ community. He’s afraid of being “cancelled” while ignoring the fact that he’s currently being paid tens of millions of dollars to perform for one of the biggest outlets in show business. Paranoia aside, Dave Chappelle is far from canceled.

There is a fair amount of revisionist history about gay jokes present in Chappelle’s routine. He’s still upset about a time when Comedy Central objected to the use of a well-known anti-gay slur, wondering why he as a straight man wasn’t allowed to use it on television. Chappelle goes on to suggest that you can’t offend the “alphabet people” at all, putting aside the decades where it was considered taboo on television to portray an LGBTQ individual in a positive light. It’s kind of odd to see a comedian who’s been around as long as Chappelle try and act like gay jokes weren’t mainstream for a very long time.

Chappelle does seem to understand that there’s a reason why the transgender community isn’t collectively a huge fan of his. He’s also right that there is a fair degree in humor in the basic plight of the transgender identity. As a transgender woman, I laugh about the various ironies of transition all the time.

There are plenty of funny jokes to be told about the transgender community. Dave Chappelle just isn’t very good at that kind of humor. It’s not particularly original to compare transgender people to figures like Rachel Dolezal. The joke is certainly not all that funny in the year 2019.

Chappelle is hardly alone as a cisgender man in not really understanding the transgender identity. He takes that a step further in deciding that things he can’t understand must not be real, or the same as a person wanting to go around shouting racist Asian stereotypes. The theme of Sticks & Stones seems to be that Dave Chappelle doesn’t care about things that don’t directly affect him.

Lacking empathy can certainly be amusing, but Sticks & Stones is a tired routine by a man who forgot to layer jokes into his act, too often sounding like a pundit on Fox News. Chappelle used to be a master at making people laugh at inherently uncomfortable topics. He’s still willing to wade into controversial territory like pedophilia, but his bits just aren’t that funny. Chappelle allows the very notion that he shouldn’t be saying things to serve as the humor instead of actual jokes.

There are bits and pieces that prove Chappelle is still capable of understanding nuance. He uses a fairly amusing allegory about LGBTQ people riding in a car to describe the differences among the various groups within our community. Listening to him describe the ways that gay white men live have better opportunities transgender people sends a very different message than the special’s broader out of touch opinions of this changing world.

Dave Chappelle hasn’t lost anything because women now feel more comfortable speaking out against sexual harassment. Gay jokes aren’t as mainstream as they used to be, but Chappelle isn’t going to have his career ruined because he still thinks certain slurs are funny to say out loud. Dave Chappelle is doing fine.

The only potential hindrance to Dave Chappelle’s career is the fact that his edgy humor isn’t as funny as it used to be. The jokes in Sticks & Stones lack the complexity of his earlier work, sounding less contrarian than simply out of touch. Dave Chappelle shouldn’t worry about being “cancelled.” The far bigger threat to his career is the fact that he’s becoming quite a bore.

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Monday

2

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

Blink of an Eye Is a Powerful Testament to Perseverance and Friendship

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The career of race car driver Michael Waltrip has been full of extreme highs and lows. A two-time winner of the NASCAR 500, Waltrip experienced success at the greatest level of American stock car racing. His peak achievements came after an astounding losing streak of 462 consecutive winless races in the Winstop Cup series. While Waltrip finally notched one in the win column at the 2001 Daytona 500, his victory was overshadowed by perhaps the darkest event in NASCAR history — the death of his friend, teammate, and mentor, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

The new documentary Blink of an Eye sets out to tell the story of Waltrip’s career, largely defined by his relationship with Earnhardt Sr. Waltrip himself, makes for a compelling subject, a man full of emotion who isn’t afraid to admit when expressing himself is hard. Director Paul Taublieb does a great job of getting his interview subjects to open up, often giving the documentary the feel of a couple of old friends reminiscing about their glory days.

Sports documentaries often try to explain the “how” behind their subject’s greatness. Blink of an Eye is a love letter from Michael Waltrip to the man who never gave up on him. Waltrip never forgot the people who took chances on him, showering praise on his early sponsors. He also expresses childlike glee at the participation of racing legend Richard Petty in the documentary, who himself is full of kind words for Waltrip. Even if you’re not a big fan of NASCAR, Waltrip offers plenty of reasons to care about him as a person.

There is a bit of a disconnect in the way that the film structures its narrative. Waltrip’s early days are painted in great detail, as is his friendship with Earnhardt Sr. His career at the top level of NASCAR racing doesn’t quite get as much attention. The 462-race losing streak receives a bit of the focus, albeit much less than his formative years.

The first half of Blink of an Eye sets itself up as a career retrospective, but the film wields a two-pronged approach to its storytelling. Waltrip is never far from the center of the narrative, but it’s a documentary about the crash about as much as it is about the person. It’s Michael Waltrip’s film without being completely about Michael Waltrip.

The structure of the documentary makes sense for plenty of reasons. Earnhardt Sr. is quite possibly the most beloved driver in NASCAR history, a vital figure in Waltrip’s story. You couldn’t tell the story of Blink of an Eye without him, but the second half of the documentary doesn’t completely need the first half. There is the sense that more time could’ve been spent of the aftermath without all the focus on Waltrip’s biography.

Blink of an Eye is a touching film, even for viewers who aren’t big NASCAR fans. Michael Waltrip manages to be humble and relatable, not always a given for figures who have achieved his level of success. Part biography, part love-letter, the documentary is a testament of human perseverance and the power of individuals to shape the lives of those around them.

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