Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: November 2020

Tuesday

24

November 2020

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Candis Cayne

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We are delighted to welcome iconic transgender actress Candis Cayne to the show. Candis has appeared on such shows as The Magicians, Grey’s Anatomy & Dirty Sexy Money. Candis recently starred in the new holiday film I Hate New Year’s, which comes out December 4th on VOD. 

Candis talks about about storied career and the evolution of trans representation on screen, as well as her new role in I Hate New Year’s. This holiday season will be tough for many, but the film offers LGBTQ people some much needed inclusivity in a genre often defined by its heteronormativity.

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Saturday

21

November 2020

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The Mandalorian Season Two Recap: Chapter Twelve

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Nevarro is not a very interesting planet, too much of a Tatooine clone in a way that’s only exacerbated by the existence of Jakku. There are seemingly countless planets for The Mandalorian to explore, but so far the show has followed the Star Trek model of prioritizing places that piles of rocks. Piles of rocks make for easy reusable set pieces.

The Mandalorian has very few recurring characters, let alone ones who are friendly to Mando and Baby Yoda. Greef Karga and Cara Dune are about it among the living. By practically every measure of conventional television storytelling, it makes sense that they’d pop up in season two, even if the plot might be better off with heading into new territory.

Mando’s arrival to Nevarro was a bit awkward, featuring some pretty wooden dialogue between Mando, Cara, and Greef. The Mandalorian has never been much for exposition, but a scene or two with Mando laying out the stakes of the season felt needed in this briskly paced episode. It’s always fun to see Carl Weathers again, who also directed this episode, but the writing hardly did his character any favors this time around.

As often happens with The Mandalorian, the action sequences are used to cover up the rushed exposition and clunky dialogue. The return of the unnamed Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) who Mando first captured in the show’s very first episode was a fun callback, though Greef and Cara’s unnecessary meanness toward him in the Imperial base was a bit much. Yelling at a guy to hurry up the second he started pushing buttons on a control system is hardly proper manners!

The first half of the episode made no effort to present the mission to blow up the Imperials as anything more than filler. Things took a completely unexpected turnaround when the team discovered that Moff Gideon had been using the base for genetic experiments. Putting aside the sly reference to midichlorians, the whole sequence served to give this detour real stakes in the show’s lore.

The action sequences were unsurprisingly spectacular. To some extent, the Stormtrooper cannon fodder is getting a little stale, but the sets are so fun to look at that it’s hard to care. The Trexler Marauder ship battle between the speeder bikes and the Tie Fighters was one of the highlights of the whole series, something that could have easily been showcased in a feature film.

One of the big questions I had heading into the season was how hard the show would try and capitalize on Baby Yoda’s status as one of the cutest fictional characters in the world. Baby Yoda being dropped in a classroom only to steal a student’s blue macarons is the kind of sequence that pretty much solely exists for memes. The little fella has a one-track mind when it comes to food, and it’s pretty much the most adorable thing in Star Wars history. He may not be a very good ship engineer, but he’s got a career waiting for him on The Food Network when this is all over.

The return of Captain Carson Teva, last seen leaving the ice planet in his X-wing instead of helping Mando fix his ship, hints at a broader role for the New Republic. The Outer Rim has historically been a problematic area for both Imperial and Republic control, though Greef and Cara seem to be keeping Nevarro in relatively good shape. As a series, The Mandalorian hasn’t spent a ton of time trying to bridge the gap between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

 It seems unlikely that Mando will want to be a part of any broader conflict between the remnants of the Empire and the New Republic, exacerbated by the show’s fairly slow pace. The show does a good job presenting its adventures as existing in the larger canon without getting anyone’s expectations up. The Empire is tracking the Razor Crest, hinting that perhaps the broader New Republic will get involved after all.

Chapter 12 recovered nicely after a bumpy first act, putting forth some of the series’ best action scenes. One could be forgiven for an eye-roll at the return to Nevarro given how much this season has dragged its feet already. With four episodes left to go, hopefully the show will stop taking detours. For now, it’s still some of the best entertainment television has to offer.

Be sure to listen to Estradiol Illusions’ Mandalorian recaps!

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Saturday

21

November 2020

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Recap (Episode 4)

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Episode four takes us back to Nevarro, the pile of rocks not named Tatooine or Jakku. While Baby Yoda munches on space macarons, Mando, Greef, and Cara Dune seek to blow up the Imperial Remnant’s lava base. Prequel fan favorite midichlorians return, evoking nostalgia for Jar Jar Binks.

Join ITM as she breaks down an uneven episode that pulled itself together right as the action started. Halfway through the season already! Time flies when you’re using the force to steal cookies. 

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Friday

20

November 2020

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The Crown returns to form on the coattails of its most celebrated Princess

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There is perhaps no greater moment of excitement for fans of The Crown than the arrival of Princess Diana. Four seasons in to a planned six-season run (briefly reduced to five before returning to its original course), Diana represents a turning point for the series, where period drama increasingly encroaches upon our modern era. As the Royal Family today endures controversies surrounding Megxit and Prince Andrew’s choice of friends, Diana’s popularity endures.

Surrounded by an exceptional cast including Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Tobias Menzies, Emma Corrin captivates as the young Princess of Wales. Corrin’s performance illustrates the complexities of Diana’s position both as an outsider to the Royal Family and as a figure who became a global sensation. Diana is a singular figure in modern culture. Corrin handles that immensely daunting task with nuance and grace.

Fellow season four newcomer Gillian Anderson takes on a similarly daunting task as Margaret Thatcher, in many ways the inverse of Diana for the purposes of The Crown. Thatcher is among the most hated politicians of the modern era, posing difficulties for a fictional depiction that’s bound to try and humanize the Iron Lady. Anderson is wonderful, occasionally bringing out those moments in the viewer where one’s emotions are tied up in an uncomfortable display of sympathy toward a figure known for her absence of humanity.

Season three often suffered from a lack of urgency to make the most of its ten episodes. Season four by comparison often has too much to do. Diana’s rise takes up much of the early episodes, intertwined with the Queen’s relationship with Thatcher. The Crown has always emphasized episodic storytelling within its broader narrative, but season four simply has better stories to tell. There’s nothing comparable to last year, when a whole episode was wasted on Prince Philip being fascinated with the moon.

Ten episodes is not a lot of time to spend on a group of individuals as complex and fascinating as the Royal Family. Prince Philip and Princesses Anne and Margaret see their roles greatly diminished, a necessary decision made in service to the season’s more compelling narratives. The Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) continues to be woefully ignored, a fascinating figure done a great disservice by The Crown.

Colman is finally given a chance to shine. Season three often sidelined the Queen in favor of the actions around her. Between conflicts with Thatcher and her responsibilities as a mother, the Queen has plenty to do this time around.

In many ways, Prince Charles is the true antagonist of the season, more so than Thatcher. Josh O’Connor does a fabulous job as the dour Prince of Wales, perpetually sulking over his marital problems and jealous of Diana’s enormous popularity. The Crown is hardly fair to the future King of England, who is depicted as fairly lazy and selfish. Stories need heroes and villains.

The Crown is not a documentary. Biopics almost always take large creative liberties with their subjects. Many articles are popping up over the inaccuracies of the events depicted, a fair correction of the record. One might feel a natural degree of sympathy toward how someone like the Duchess of Cornwall might feel at being seen as a vicious adulterer uncaring toward the mental wellbeing of a national icon. As bleak as it sounds, that shouldn’t really override the primary objective of The Crown, to produce compelling television.

Diana’s arrival gives The Crown a chance to recapture the magic of spectacle. Few series evoke a sense of awe and wonder quite like Morgan’s Royal Family fantasies. Historians can balk at the creative liberties all they want, but this is one of the most exciting shows on television. Truth need not be as important.

 

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Thursday

19

November 2020

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Mark Nelson, Biosphere 2

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Today we are joined by Dr. Mark Nelson, one of the eight original scientists who lived inside Biosphere 2 for two years in the early 90s. The events of Biosphere 2 were chronicled in the excellent documentary Spaceship Earth (available on Hulu), one of Ian’s favorites from Sundance. Dr. Nelson talks at length about his experiences inside Biosphere 2, as well as many of the discoveries they made along their journey.

Dr. Nelson has a new book out called Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years Inside Biosphere 2. You can purchase it here: https://www.synergeticpress.com/shop/life-under-glass/

Dr. Nelson’s other books include Pushing our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2  (https://www.amazon.com/Pushing-Our-Limits-Insights-Biosphere/dp/0816537321) & The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time (https://www.synergeticpress.com/shop/the-wastewater-gardener/)

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Tuesday

17

November 2020

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ASOIAF: Data Science & Network Theory

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We’re back in Westeros! Delighted to welcome Professor Colm Connaughton from the University of Warwick to discuss a paper he worked on, alongside a team from several universities in the UK & Ireland.

 

The paper “Narrative structure of A Song of Ice and Fire creates a fictional world with realistic measure of social complexity” dives into the ways George R.R. has crafted such an intricate universe that mirrors our own society while remaining accessible to readers.

Colm presents many of his findings in a fascinating conversation that touches subjects including Barristan Selmy, House Frey, the Meereenese Knot, & podcast favorite Stannis Baratheon among many others. Join us for a delightful dive into Westeros lore.

The full paper can be read here (recommended reading before or during the episode): https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/10/27/2006465117

 

You can follow Colm on Twitter @CPConnaughton

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Saturday

14

November 2020

1

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season Two Recap: Chapter Eleven

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Would Mando be better off simply traveling to various planets asking locals in their bars for help finding Jedi? Maybe he should stand on a table holding Baby Yoda up, yelling, “Does anyone know where this kid came from?” That’s basically where we’re at.

Last episode saw the Razor Crest almost destroyed because Mando needed to travel at sub-light to protect Frog Lady’s eggs. The reason beyond this dangerous missions was supposed to be that Frog Lady’s husband had valuable information as to where Mando could find other helmet-wearers like him. Mando will likely spend the rest of his days picking spider webs out of his ship in service to this vital step in his journey.

Upon arriving at the water-heavy planet Trask, almost destroying what’s left of the ship in the process, Mr. Frog Lady does have a big reveal. He points at a bar. That’s it. That’s the information Mando almost died for. A glorified chowder recommendation.

Mando would have been much better off simply asking the X-wing pilots if they knew of any Jedi. They probably do. None of this is nitpicking. This season has yet to supply a reason for its broader quest to find other Mandalorians.

Mando finds some leads while Baby Yoda chows down on octopus chowder. Mr. Frog Lady didn’t exactly give the best intel, as the Quarren fishing boat was less interested in helping Mando than acquiring his armor. Baby Yoda’s floating bassinet apparently doesn’t float over water.

Part of the beauty of The Mandalorian is that it’s clearly crafted by people who love Star Wars. The series isn’t constructed in a way that forces anyone to watch animated shows like The Clone Wars or Rebels, while rewarding those that do. Seeing Bo-Katan in live-action is amazing, especially with Katee Sackoff reprising her role from the animated series.

Unlike Mando, Bo-Katan and her buddies are free to remove their helmets. While fitting in line with their animated appearances, seeing helmet-less Mandalorians is also valuable for the audience. People like to see faces and the expressions worn on them. This dynamic also allows the show to explore Mando’s core belief, one that would naturally sound pretty radical to any casual viewer.

Bo-Katan suggests that Mando is a Child of the Watch, essentially a Mando-extremist cult that broke off from the rest of Mandalore’s society. Mando doesn’t have a ton of time to process this information before the rest of the 35-minute episode’s action scenes need to take place, but this is a valuable question for the show to explore over the course of its run. Ideally, we the viewer may like to envision a scenario where Mando settles down, able to look at his adopted son with his own eyes.

Speaking of Baby Yoda, thankfully the little guy didn’t eat any more of Frog Lady’s eggs. It’s kind of ridiculous that Mando would ask her to babysit considering his snacking habits last episode, but it’s not like he has a ton of friends, on Trask or elsewhere. Kuiil would have been a great traveling babysitter. I miss him.

The action scenes aboard the Gozanti-class Imperial cruiser were great. It was super fun to see TV veteran Titus Welliver as the ship captain, who sadly died before he got a chance to have some tea. Obviously the other Mandalorians weren’t interested in raiding the ship for blasters, or other weapons.

Great to see the return of Moff Gideon. Giancarlo Esposito is fabulous in everything he’s in. Darksaber is one of the big questions of this season, one that I suspect the show won’t be in too big of a rush to address. Fun episodes like this make the destination less important than the journey.

Mando’s quest to find other Mandos did prove fruitful. After quoting Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan from her 2016 campaign, Bo-Katan tells Mando to head to Calodan to find Ahsoka Tano, another fan favorite. He probably could have stumbled upon that tidbit without having to travel by sublight to Trask, but here we are.

“The Heiress” demonstrates the show’s keen ability to simultaneously satisfy casual fans and Star Wars diehards. The Mandalorian rarely suffers when it drags its feet, but this episode moved the plot forward in a way that’s been lacking from this season’s first two installments. We’re almost at the halfway marker, as much as it feels like things just got started. Boba Fett may not come back until the end of the season, if at all. For now, that hardly seems to matter.

For more of Ian’s Mandalorian analysis, be sure to check out Estradiol Illusion’s weekly recaps

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Saturday

14

November 2020

0

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Recap (Episode 3)

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Big character reveals! Baby Yoda stops eating the last of Frog Lady’s eggs! What could be better?

Join ITM for a discussion of a vast improvement over last episode. Three episodes in, the plot is finally moving forward! Cozy up with a bowl of octopus chowder and tune in for some Star Wars analysis. 

Ian’s episode 3 recap: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2020/11/the-mandalorian-season-two-recap-chapter-eleven/

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Thursday

12

November 2020

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76 Days provides a front row seat to the early days of the coronavirus

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The coronavirus has fundamentally changed life on earth for practically every country. The film 76 Days provides a front-row seat into the heart Wuhan hospitals from February to April, as the rest of the world began to grapple with what we were all about to face. The result is often jarring to watch, an important reminder of the stakes at hand across our planet.

Directors Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and a third collaborator credited as anonymous to protect their identity, present a narrative at the heart of the action, shot mostly within the contamination zones at four separate hospitals. The doctors and nurses, all decked out in head-to-toe protective equipment, are clearly under siege, doing the best they can to handle these unknown and chaotic circumstances. The directors do a fabulous job framing each scene, camera angles that make you feel like you’re in the room with the patients and staff.

The fear and anxiety are palpable in the air with every moment. Many of the doctors do not exactly have the best bedside manner, perfectly understandable given the stakes at hand. We’ve known all along that the doctors and nurses are the heroes of this global pandemic, but 76 Days gives them a chance to be seen as people. Like the rest of us, many of them are scared, doing their best under enormous pressure. There is great power in their resilience.

While the filmmakers take a mostly hands-off approach to the narrative, there are a few strands that come together to form a cohesive story. An elderly patient receives a great deal of focus, growing restless under the strict demands of the hospital. A film like 76 Days hardly needs to spend much time presenting protagonists to root for, but the filmmaker’s approach gives an added sense of depth to the material. This isn’t just a living history, but a story of people caught in the whirlwind.

Perhaps most striking is the similarities between some of the patients and the broader American fatigue that many feel toward the virus. Everyone is tired of COVID, from mask-wearing to not being able to see your loved ones. 76 Days is a powerful wake up call to anyone not taking this pandemic seriously, a gut-wrenching display of the stakes at hand.

76 Days is often very difficult to watch. The pain and suffering rarely lets up, though it’s clear that the filmmakers are aware of this tonal dynamic. There are points for hope. The history of the coronavirus is not fully written yet, but 76 Days does a hell of a job presenting the early weeks of this global nightmare.

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Thursday

12

November 2020

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Assassins is a riveting real-life thriller

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A failed attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland changed the course of history on the Korean peninsula. A simple desire to spend some time at the happiest place on earth cost Kim Jong-nam the chance to lead North Korea as Supreme Leader, which instead was handed to his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un after the death of their father Kim Jong-il, and later his life. The documentary Assassins chronicles Kim’s highly publicized assassination at a Malaysian airport in broad daylight, and the tragic aftermath that ensnared the unwitting perpetrators.

Director Ryan White masterfully breaks down the complex mechanics of North Korean politics and the Malaysian justice system in a fascinating thriller. The North Korean government is widely believed to have been behind the assassination, manipulating two separate women into dousing Kim with the highly deadly chemical VX under the guise of being performers in a prank show. While the North Koreans who orchestrated the murder quickly escaped, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huoung almost found themselves executed for their role in the international firestorm.

Much of Assassins centers around the legal defense of both women, Aisyah from Indonesia and Huoung from Vietnam. Neither girl knew each other, both seeking a chance at stardom not unlike many online influencers. With so many different countries involved in the saga, White does a great job making sure his audience doesn’t get lost in the chaos.

Though the subject matter is serious, the legal defense teams often keep things upbeat for the audience. The pacing feels more in line with a political thriller than a typical documentary, heightening the suspense for a subject whose outcome anyone could find out with a simple google search. White ensures the journey is just as interesting as the destinations.

Kim Jong-un’s “love affair” with Donald Trump has been the subject of wide mockery by many. Though many docs succumb to the temptations of dedicating too much time to Trump, White keeps mentions of our soon-to-be former president to a minimum. Having almost certainly ordered the hit on his brother, Chairman Kim is an important factor, but this isn’t fully his story. Assassins juggles its many pieces quite well.

North Korea is a tough nut to crack for anyone, even U.S. intelligence. Assassins is a welcoming doc for anyone, even if you know nothing about the hermit kingdom. Kim Jong-un lends himself well to mockery, but White never loses sight of the monster at hand. At times, the trial drags a bit, perhaps serving as too much of a play-by-play, but this doc is a must watch for anyone looking to learn more about this elusive part of the world.

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